The Iron Lady
A grocer's daughter who was elected to three terms as prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher restored her country to an honored place on the world stage.
As the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher was the product of political institutions and traditions foreign to this country. But even from afar, it was clear that this determined woman was cut from special cloth.
Thatcher knew what she believed and why she believed it. Rather than trim her sails, she sought converts to her cause, defended the sometimes tough medicine she prescribed and restored Great Britain from what it was when she took office — the "sick man of Europe" — to a prosperous and successful country. Along with the United States under President Reagan, Thatcher helped deposit the old Soviet Union on the ash heap of history.
But for her conservative politics — she was a devotee of free minds and free markets — Thatcher would have been a feminist icon. That she wasn't bothered her not at all. She was not afraid to go against public opinion and never thought of modifying her views if she thought she was right.
Like all great leaders, Thatcher could be a polarizing figure. But she was not so polarizing that she could not win three terms in office and oversee monumental change.
Thatcher's goal was to end what she called Great Britain's "culture of dependency," and that meant repealing many of the socialist policies that had turned the country into a basket case. She took on organized labor, which had paralyzed the country with strikes, cut spending and sold off state-owned industries in an effort to infuse them with the energy of private enterprise.
She didn't back down when it came to foreign affairs. When Argentina seized the Falkland Islands, Thatcher said it could either leave on its own or be ejected by the British military. When Argentina decided to stay, Thatcher threw it out. Ironically, she was accused of being too belligerent with the country that had seized British territory.
All told, she enjoyed an extraordinary life, climbing to heights that few could foresee. Others may have set limits on what a young, middle-class girl could achieve in class-conscious, male-dominated British politics, but Thatcher never did.